Linkin’ tunnel

Machines will begin cutting through the Palisades within weeks, the beginning of an $8.7 billion commuter rail tunnel to Manhattan.

NJ Transit awarded the project’s first building contract: a $13.6 million bridge across Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen that will allow the tunnel’s tracks to pass underneath.

The light at the end will be a new mass-transit option that Bergen and Passaic counties have lacked — one which could also free traffic lanes for Hudson motorists.

Speaking of motorists: All four lanes of Tonnelle Avenue will stay open throughout the project, NJ Transit officials said.

The McDonald’s that has long been on that strip of Routes 1 & 9 must come down, as well as part of a nearby warehouse, they said.

NJ Transit already has a commitment from the feds to include $200 million for the project in its 2010 federal budget, bringing the total pledge from Washington to $378 million.

If that sounds like a lot, it isn’t: The agency says it needs federal taxpayers to fork over nearly $3 billion to cover the cost of the ride to and from all of NJ Transit’s lines serving midtown Manhattan from NJ, Rockland and Orange County.

Estimates are that twice as many daily commuters — roughly 200,000 of them — will use NJ Transit as a result.

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